Challenges are an inevitable part of any period home renovation, but Rachel and Tim Buxton certainly had more than their fair share. When they began their search for a family home in the Wiltshire countryside, they were actively looking for a project, but renovating a 17th-century farmhouse, unchanged for decades, would make even the most seasoned renovators think twice. Read on to find out how they got on with their transformation.
Owners Rachel Buxton, joint founder of fashion accessory brand Fioriblu, lives here with her husband Tim, a property developer, their daughters Tilly, 15, Rose, seven, and dogs Bramble and Cashew.
Property A five-bedroom Grade II-listed stone farmhouse in Avebury, Wiltshire, which dates back to the late 17th century with later brick additions. A thatched roof was replaced with a mansard roof probably in the 19th century. To the right is
The Bothy, an adjoining three-bedroom cottage that the family rent out.
What they did Tim and Rachel renovated the
entire property, which included restoring original features, rewiring, replumbing and converting the loft. They also landscaped the front driveway and added a glazed oak-frame extension. More recently they have added a separate garage-cum-home office.
The property was in a poor state of repair from years of renting, it had no mains water or central heating, and with its Grade II-listed status they knew that any alternations would be subject to strict planning regulations. Add to this a new baby on the way and the relaxed country life that the pair had longed for seemed a distant dream.
Despite the challenges, the property’s idyllic location - set not only in an area of outstanding natural beauty, but a world heritage site - was something the pair couldn’t resist, not to mention its wealth of prized original features.
Formerly based in Shepherd’s Bush, the couple were looking for a family-friendly place in the country within commuting distance of the capital and Bristol. ‘When we got married in 2001 we always said we’d be out of London in two years, and as fate would have it we spent our second wedding anniversary on site in our static caravan while doing up the new house,’ says Rachel.
The couple had been ‘looking for a property with lots of potential that hadn’t been previously renovated’, and was large enough to accommodate their growing family. The farmhouse and its adjoining three-bedroom cottage ticked all the boxes.
It hadn’t exactly been loved,’ says Rachel. ‘Walls had been squared off with dryline plasterboard, fireplaces were blocked up and we even found wiring between wallpapers.’ It was far from suitable for family living and required going back to the bare bones.
Previously water had been tapped off the farm supply, so the first job was to connect the property to the mains. The positioning of the house at the bottom of a slope also made it susceptible to flooding, so together with the farmer, Rachel and Tim designed a soakaway along with a new driveway for private access.
Tim and Rachel also reconfigured the layout. Originally the kitchen was located in a small room at the far end of the property, which wasn’t fit for family life. ‘We wanted a warm hub at the heart of the home,’ says Rachel.
The solution was to move the kitchen to its original location in the old part of the property, which brought with it several happy discoveries including the uncovering of a lovely old beam and an original bread oven in a blocked-up alcove.
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Upstairs, a hayloft was transformed into a master en suite and the loft was converted into three bedrooms and a bathroom for the children, with new dormer windows.
Due to the building’s thick walls and small windows the kitchen was fairly dark, so the couple had the ingenious solution of adding a glazed oak-frame extension to maximise light and living space.
Planning restrictions dictated that anything added must be reversible and clearly distinguishable from the original building. As a result, the space is accessed through an original doorway to avoid structural alterations, with glass and oak chosen to give a distinct contrast with old and new.
As the kitchen was a moderate size, a utility area was needed, so Rachel and Tim knocked through to the cottage next door to create an additional room. This would have been a big structural change had they not struck lucky finding an opening already there, which had just been infilled with rubble.
The couple have a passion for preserving heritage and were keen to restore original features to their former glory with the help of skilled craftsmen.
Both inside and outside some stone-mullioned windows had been painted, which the couple feared could do damage, so they employed a specialist to have it removed.
The window to the master bedroom had also been blocked up, but luckily when they came to reopen it they found the original stone mullions intact, so they had them re-leaded by an expert.
More recently the family have added a garage-cum-home studio on the driveway as a base for Rachel’s business Fioriblu, which sells leather handbags handcrafted in Italy. ‘I had an office in the house for a while, but adding the separate building has meant that we have been able to create a snug for the children instead.’
As the property has been adapted to fit the changing needs of the family over time, so too have the interiors evolved organically through the years. ‘I keep hold of ideas until I come across spaces where they will work, rather than creating a grand scheme,’ admits Rachel. The result is an easy-to-live-with, timeless country feel, which provides a calming yet uplifting backdrop to the chaos of family life.
Now that the house is complete, Rachel is itching to get stuck into the next challenge: the garden. ‘In the early days we had a young child, so gardening wasn’t a priority,’ says Rachel. ‘But in time we hope to create some pretty borders.’ If the project is anything like the house, it’s sure to be a masterclass in effortless rural charm.